Library offers path to high school diploma

Staff Writer

The Long Branch Free Public Library is one of six libraries throughout the state that now offer an online program to provide adults with a path to attain an accredited high school diploma.

The Career Online High School was made available to the libraries through a grant to the New Jersey State Library (NJSL) from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The online program is offered in partnership with Gale Cengage Learning, which developed the program.

According to Kristina Massari, senior manager of public and media relations at Cengage Learning, the program offers an advantage over General Education Development (GED) programs because it provides students with an accredited high school diploma.

This offering provides a more “in-depth” approach than a GED program.

“And to an employer, a GED versus a high school diploma is a lot different,” Massari said.

Students who complete the program will receive one of eight career certifications, she said.

Career certifications include child care and education, certified protection officer, certified transportation services, office management, homeland security, general career preparation, retail customer service skills, and food and customer service skills.

Students will also have the assistance of an academic coach through the online program to help them navigate their classes and provide access to useful resources, Massari said.

According to Tonya Badillo, director of the Long Branch library, the program was launched in Long Branch on Oct. 7, and the library is now accepting applications on a rolling basis over the course of the yearlong program.

Students can even transfer in previously earned high school credits, she said. “It should take them anywhere from four to eight months to complete the program, depending on how many credits they transfer in,” Badillo said.

In addition, the library created its own mentorship program to work alongside the Career Online High School and academic coaches, she said. Twenty-five mentors from within the eight fields of certification provided by the program will offer assistance and insight to students as they complete the course, according to Badillo.

Ultimately, she said the library would like to provide resources such as résumé building and networking to help connect graduates of the Career Online High School with job openings or higher education.

“We would really like to see career counselors in place to connect students with resources and help them find work after the program, too,” she said.

While the first Career Online High School was established in the Los Angeles Public Library, this is the first time in the nation that the program has been offered to a number of library systems throughout a state, according to Tiffany McClary, director of public relations for NJSL.

Libraries offering the Career Online High School, in addition to the Long Branch Free Public Library, are Camden County Library System, Elizabeth Public Library, Scotch Plains Public Library, Somerset County Library System and the Trenton Free Public Library.

According to McClary, such programs provide evidence that libraries are more than simply storage for books.

“This is just another step that we’re taking to transition from being seen as just a depository of books,” she said. “We’re truly a community anchor institution.”

NJSL purchased access to the program with a $146,475 grant provided by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, according to McClary.

She said there are 125 scholarships created by the grant, and they were dispersed through the different regions based on the need for high school diplomas.

Those scholarships will be offered to applicants based on specific criteria developed individually by the participating libraries.

Badillo said 15 scholarships will be provided to students who are 19 years of age or older, have previously completed one year of high school and have a Long Branch library card.